In a Bottle... Ch. 05byZeban©
Alan had apparently transposed the numbers from two separate accounts while he was working on his own proposals with his head stuck in Maxwell's work.
Alan was distracted the rest of the day after such a close call. He was convinced that had Alan been anyone else at the office, Hannigan would've handed him a pink slip without even talking about it. He would have to keep his head down and his mind focused on himself. He disregarded Max. Assuming that he could take care of himself, his job should be secure and in the clear, especially with Alan drawing so much attention.
He got off work at 4, shut down his computer, and headed out the back door to his car. His mind was still stuck on how he could have made such a serious error. He was beside himself with disbelief. Three years and he hadn't done anything that foolish. Simple mistakes were the worst because there was no excuse to give except that he wasn't paying attention as closely as he should.
Halfway to his car, Alan glanced at a nearby window, the reflection behind him catching his eye. There was a dim shimmer almost like a wavering light drifting -- slowly orbiting more like -- around the source. The source in this case appeared to be a dark-skinned figure wearing a long black trench coat à la Matrix. It was noticeably different than anything he had ever seen before, almost imperceptible, yet glaringly obvious at the same time. He had thought about when he might be able to tell if other people had come into contact with genies. That pushy little man he'd encountered at the mall had told him that he had magical residue on him, now he understood what that meant. The light intensified abruptly as he watched and Alan realized that must mean magic was being called upon. This wasn't a person who had called upon the power of a genie, this was a genie. He took a step to the side and turned to get a better look at this rarity.
A crackling bolt of electricity struck the pavement behind Alan with a concussive blast that shoved him sprawling to the ground. He slammed into the pavement shoulder first and lay there for a second in a daze. He glanced back at where the lightning had hit and saw a small hole in the asphalt surrounded by a starburst-shaped scorch mark.
Had he not turned to look, that would have been right where he was walking. He shook his head a little, trying to shake off the mental fuzziness. Turned to look. Look at what?
His mental acuity returned and he immediately looked back to where he had seen the genie in the reflection of the building. He saw nothing but a parking lot half-full of empty cars. A couple people on the distant sidewalk had stopped to gawk at the lightning flashing down from a cloudless sky. Uneasiness bore into his heart and he began to panic. Someone had been there.
His gaze began to dart frantically around to locate his assailant as he slowly got up on one knee. His heart skipped a beat when he heard gravel crunch against asphalt behind him.
"I am Eneros, the destruction mage," came a whispered voice from behind.
'Not a genie, then,' Alan thought to himself. This was one of the magi he had heard about.
Alan didn't need to see an intense shimmer to know what was coming. He dodged to the side just as the mage released a wave of force -- condensed hydrogen molecules in the air moving fast enough to cut through steel. And they did just that. A newer Hyundai sonata parked no less than twenty feet away from him abruptly rent itself in two, effectively separating the back seats from the trunk. Molten metal steamed as it cooled.
"If I were trying to kill you, that wouldn't have hit the car," the mage announced casually.
"If you say so," Alan retorted, a bit out of breath. While mentally he had become something else, physically he was still out of shape. "All the same, I don't think I'll keep you around long enough to find out your intentions."
Alan reacted with the first thing he could think of to defend himself from this extremely dangerous threat. He envisioned a manticore and extended his will to manifest his vision. He focused as much as he could considering the circumstances. The beast grew quickly, at first looking like an average full-grown lion, but soon sprouting an enormous, wicked-looking scorpion tail. The face growing out of the mane came to look like an evil demon with reddened skin, several rows of sharp teeth, and a set of intimidating horns atop it.
Complete, it looked over at Eneros and gnashed its teeth menacingly.
"An masterful yet futile display of conjuring. How many genies did you have to drain to grow this adept?" Eneros asked with a hint of a surprise behind his question.
Alan ignored his unsettling question and directed his creation to attack while he assessed the situation more closely.
"Manticore, remove this threat," he uttered as convincingly as he could.
Eneros flung his hands out with his palms face up and suddenly a searing blast of heat radiated from the space between him and Alan as a wall of shimmering fire tried to consume the Manticore on its way to attack the mage. Alan had to take a step back to retreat from the intense heat.
This time, Eneros was a bit more flagrant in his surprise when he saw the beast emerge unscathed and still rushing toward him. Alan took that moment to seize his opportunity to hide himself better. He jaunted off into the parking lot as Eneros was making more frantic gestures at his monster, creating a considerable commotion in the process. This was not lost on the now substantial crowd of onlookers. He found a suitable spot behind a car tire where he could still catch glimpses of the action from seclusion.
His manticore had reached the mage and had pushed him back up against a building by biting at him. Alan figured it was time for the debilitating blow and had the venomous tail lash out and stick into Eneros' chest. He crafted an illusion of numbing pain that would surely end this fight after it finished spreading throughout his body.
"Ah!" cried Eneros.
Alan knew that the tail had scored a hit. Any minute now he would crumple to the ground and Alan could be away from this scene before it got any worse. His vision warbled for a brief moment, it would be dangerous to create many more illusions without releasing the complex manticore first.
"So it wasn't a conjuration!" Eneros exclaimed. "That explains things much more clearly."
Alan shook his head to clear the confusion. He hadn't been crying out in pain. It had been a cry of revelation! He knew that Alan was using illusions. He had to drop all pretenses of scaring or tricking this lethal foe. Alan released all of his illusions and focused his mind on pure pain. He thought about what it would be like to be drawn and quartered -- the feeling of having the fibers of your body ripped apart -- and molded that idea exclusively into an enchantment.
Eneros paused and looked in his direction. He must have seen a glimmer of magical residue. Alan invoked his enchantment with as much power as he could muster. Eneros seemed to shiver for a moment before putting his arms out before him and clenching his fists.
The car in front of Alan violently jolted skyward and landed upside down some twenty or thirty feet away with a crash. So much for a hiding place.
"I have to commend you for trying to incapacitate me, but as I said before, your efforts are futile. You see the black coat isn't just for show," he said, grasping the collar of his trench coat in his fists. "It severely hinders hostile magic. Any pain you might try and cause me is diminished to merely a mild discomfort. Now, let's bring this meeting to a close."
Eneros made another gesture, but already Alan was using his best defense. He cloaked himself in invisibility and silence and leapt away from his location just in time to avoid being flung to the ground by another unnatural lightning bolt scorching the pavement.
"I really do tire of this game of cat and mouse," yawned Eneros.
With a flick of his wrist a nearby street lamp wrenched itself out of the ground and hovered ominously above the ground. He moved his hand quickly in front of his torso as though slapping the air. The metal pole viciously swung through the air, mimicking his motion like a puppet on a string, and slamming into the side of a police cruiser that had just arrived.
His hand swished back the other way. The pole hurled itself away from the police car and covered the entire distance of the parking lot in seconds, causing sparks to fly as it scraped along the pavement.
Three more sweeps was all it took for Eneros to get lucky and clobber Alan in the side with his oversized metal baseball bat, sending him sprawling to the ground. He couldn't hold onto his illusions under this amount of pain and his elbow, a couple fingers on each hand, part of his chest, and one of his legs disturbingly materialized without his direction.
Alan didn't know how this mage could keep up this level of magic. It was all he could do just to remain standing before that blow. He released his enchantments, reappearing completely on the ground at the mercy of Eneros, the destruction mage.
The least he could do was accept defeat like a man. He stood up and let his hands drop to his sides, breathing shallow through the pain. He felt like several of his ribs might be cracked.
His mind went to a happy place in his last moments, not wanting the last thing that he saw to be the face of this cretin. He relived all of the wondrous events of the past few weeks. Solving the puzzle of the totem, meeting Misty, setting her free, acquiring his harem, the debauchery that ensued...
Hope filled the void of defeat within him -- Alan had one last trump card.
Before he realized he had thought it, Carmella, Lucky, and Magik were standing beside him, ready and waiting just like the last time he had summoned them.
"More illusions? We'll see if these can hold up better than your last," mocked Eneros. His fist rose to eye level and then opened, revealing a blossoming flame in his hand that quickly spun itself into an expanding ball of liquid heat.
Carmella surprised everyone and stepped in front of Alan and forcefully pushed him back in the same instant that the ball shrieked toward them, consuming oxygen with a roaring pandemonium that they could feel in their bones.
Before anything more could be done, the blast of heat engulfed Carmella with a hunger like that of a wild animal. Instantly her hair withered into ash and her clothing melted into her skin, the two becoming one.
She opened her mouth to scream, but the withering blast of heat forced its way down her throat and into her lungs, shriveling them like a couple of raisins.
Her knees buckled and she collapsed as she began to lose consciousness from the pain. Alan caught a glimpse of her eyes as she twisted to the ground, her final emotions permanently seared into them before they cooked down to a pair of smoldering coals. Had she been looking for him to help her?
Her skin began to char and peel away from her bones in little curls. The tissue with more fat, especially her breasts, bubbled up like a grotesque ball of pizza dough being cooked.
"I wish we were all immune from harmful magic five minutes ago!" Alan screamed, snapping to his senses as he finally realized Lucky was there with him.
"I am sorry, Master," Lucky consoled him, "but time magic is a very volatile force and it would take all of my power just to send the world back in time a mere twenty seconds, let alone five minutes and still be able to fulfill the other half of your desire, which is equally difficult."
Alan felt like throwing up. He had barely even had a chance to get to know Carmella, and it was his fault that things had ended up like this.
...Partly his fault.
He glared at the mage who watched Carmella sizzle with apparent disdain. He knew he had killed a genie, that this one wasn't an illusion. He hadn't known what that genie meant to Alan.
Wiping away the tears of rage that were blurring his vision, Alan again wrapped himself in visual and audible illusion, granting him invisibility and silence to earn time to focus on something new. Through his growing fatigue, Alan summoned new illusions, extending his invisibility and silence to his two remaining genies to keep them safe. Eneros seemed only focused on what he was doing, not what was going on around him.
"This again?" Eneros sighed, impatient with having to find Alan again. He held his arm out to pick up the discarded lamp post using his levitation, but when he did his hand wasn't empty. Alan saw the pieces all fitting together long before his illusion was complete. He struggled to maintain consciousness and watched.
The four police officers who had showed up a moment ago and were looking at Eneros saw an uzi submachine gun pointed in their direction and watched as it opened fire -- an illusion designed for only them to perceive, effectively bypassing the need to use magic directly on the mage. By the time Eneros realized what was happening, he already had six bullets in him. Apparently, his coat was not as bullet-proof as it was magic-proof.
- - - - - -
After spending an hour giving his very mundane statement about a crazy man with military grade weapons -- somehow none of which were recovered at the scene -- trying to assassinate him, Alan finally got to gather his other two djinni into his car and make the drive home.
During the silent car ride home, Lucky and Magik sensed that Alan wasn't in the mood to talk, and if he wanted to initiate conversation, they would wait for him to ask a question. Alan adopted the quiescent mood of the car and used it to try and better grasp the situation.
Carmella was dead.
He had let her down. She had believed in him after seeing him free Misty from the invisible bondage that had enslaved them all to lives of servitude. Going from master to master using their immense powers to make everyone else happy. He was just like all of the rest, all of her masters that had come before him. He had used her to make a desire. And now her life was forfeit.
He gave her hope that life could be different. He built her up and then let her take the plunge, giving up everything that she had so that the others might have a chance to live free. He was worse than her other masters. He hadn't only used her, he had taken everything from her for an empty promise.
And what could he even do for Lucky and Magik? He didn't have the power to free them both. He had one desire left and no idea where to find any more genies. His plan originally had been to enjoy their company while searching for a way to end genie slavery altogether.
Worst of all: The magi were after him, and apparently had found his workplace.
His first instinct was to reincarnate Carmella. To fix everything back the way it was. Then, he thought protection might be a better idea. Next time it would be him, or Misty, or...
He continued to go around in circles as his body drove on autopilot the rest of the way home. He had driven this route enough times that he could practically do it with his eyes closed.
What if the same thing happens again and he has to lose Carmella a second time? Should he let her go and focus on protecting the remaining friends he has? How do you measure the importance of the lives of your friends? What if he tries to protect them and overlooks something? What if they end up getting to him anyway? He had outsmarted Eneros' anti-magic trench coat. What a waste of a desire it would be if he tried to protect against destruction magic and the next magi that came was familiar with an entirely different type of magic. Thinking that a single wish would protect him from everything would make him just as foolish as thinking a magic trench coat would save him from danger forever.
He pulled up into his usual parking space and shut the car off. His door was waiting for him on the second floor and he couldn't even look at it. Misty was inside. She still didn't even know why he had summoned the harem to him.
"How do I tell Misty?" he finally spoke to his two passengers, voicing his horrible feelings.
"Do not worry, master. We can take care of that if you find it too hard to talk about at this moment," Lucky consoled him.
Alan followed his two genies up to his apartment wondering how long it would be until the Magi learned where he lived. When they got inside, Lucky quickly went and found Misty and took her into their bedroom before she could ask about the absence of Carmella.
Alan felt awful. There was no other way to describe the emptiness inside of him. He reflected on the time that they had all spent together recently, and it made things worse. He tried to banish the memories, but trauma tends to stick in the mind and everything that he saw right now reminded him of her.
Magik -- sensing that Alan would not be in a mood that she could cheer him up from -- took his hand gently, pulling him from his thoughts briefly, and led him to the couch. She sat him down next to her and simply laid her head on his shoulder to let him know that she was there.
He remained mute, but squeezed her hand to assure her that he appreciated the gesture. They sat in silence with each other while Misty and Lucky talked in hushed tones behind the bedroom door. Alan didn't have anything to say for the time being. Speaking felt like it would require an enormous amount of effort.
His thoughts began to wander back to the first time he and Misty had been intimate, right there on the couch. He glanced down at the printed fabric, a pattern of fall leaves, scattered orange and brown. He ran his fingers across it, reminiscing the details of Misty's surprise striptease.
Abruptly, he got up and walked into the kitchen leaving Magik alone on the couch. The last thing he expected to be on his mind after seeing a friend die was sex, yet he couldn't help himself from thinking about it. He missed all of her, and that was a big part of their relationship. He moved to the refrigerator and grasped the handle tightly to hold himself up, afraid to trust his knees to keep from buckling under the emotional weight. His gaze wandered to the patch of linoleum where Carmella had cleaned up the eggs that he had spilled.
"Are you okay?" Misty asked from behind, and he felt a hand caress his shoulder lovingly. A tear rolled off his cheekbone and landed on top of the refrigerator door -- apparently he had opened it unconsciously.
Suddenly, he felt his throat constrict and his breath catch in his throat. He began to sob uncontrollably. Misty wrapped her arms tightly around him. Alan turned quickly, grabbed her, and buried his face in her shoulder. After a time, the sobs racking his body began to subside and he realized the refrigerator was still open and he wasn't even hungry to begin with. He wiped the tears away from his cheeks and held Misty at arms length, looking into her face.
"I can't do it, Misty. Everywhere I look she's there, haunting me. I can't go on without her. All of you are too important to me. Letting any of you go is unimaginable. She didn't even have a chance to live. We've barely been together for a week. She was a genie! There has to be something that we can do, some rule that you neglected to tell me about preventing djinni from-" he swallowed the word 'dying' hard, like a boiled egg going down whole, "...this."
"I am sorry to disappoint you, master. I have neither neglected to discuss nor withheld such information from you. Once a genie has assumed a human form we are susceptible to every peril that a human would be. The transformation is very absolute."
He drew a ragged breath and turned to Lucky.
"Lucky, if I were to desire such, would your magic be enough to bring her back?"